VC Filmmakers focus on fostering student film scene

Above is a still from Kota Lee ’19’s short film “Blink,” starring Abigail Kipfel ’22. The piece is one of 11 short films that the revitalized VC Filmmakers produced collaboratively during the Spring semester under the leadership of Lee and Brill ’19. Courtesy of Kota Lee

In short films exploring topics ranging from lemon throwing to sculpture making to family longing, the directors of VC Filmmakers proved their dynamism and range in their student showcase on Monday, May 20. The screening featured seven pieces by Leon Brill ’19, Kota Lee ’19, Laura Zapien ’20, Tony Hernandez ’20 and Max Kelly ’21. Together, the motley crew of film makers view this student showcase as the culmination of their dedicated efforts throughout the 2018-19 school year to establish a passionate and cohesive film community at Vassar.

Brill and Lee looked upon the work they shared proudly, reflecting on the considerable growth they have seen in VC Filmmakers since they came to Vassar four years ago. Lee stated, “The org as it currently stands didn’t exist two years ago. We made it happen because Leon and I just really wanted an outlet to make films, and that didn’t really exist on campus that much.” Brill concurred, “I took over the club at the end of my sophomore year. It was basically dead.”

The two revitalized VC Filmmakers by revamping its equipment, improving outreach to students and fostering a sense of community among members. Brill and Lee consider this showcase to be the capstone of these efforts. When asked what their proudest achievement is since they took on this project, Lee responded, “The amount of shorts we’ve done this semester—we’ve done 11.” Brill then added, “The amount of people that show up to meetings now. That wasn’t a thing. We didn’t have a central group of people.”

Brill and Lee ended their VC Filmmakers careers with zany and daring works. Brill shared his comedy-horror short “De-Stress.” He reflected, “The rooftop shoot was probably the most fun day on set. Getting to put hamburger meat mixed in with blood on Cosmo [Sweeney ’19]’s head was a time.” Lee showed three projects: “Ghost,” “Vitamin C” and “Lemons.” On “Lemons,” Lee jokingly mused, “It shows we had a blast making that … Throwing lemons at people is really fun, and I recommend it personally—as long as they’re cool with it.”

Although Brill and Lee are graduating, they are confident in the leadership and vision of younger VC Filmmakers members. Kelly, who will be the Equipment Manager next semester, shared how he envisions shaping the future of the org: “Personally, I will just keep on doing what Kota was doing this semester of getting as many people as possible access to the equipment, and being an open resource for people to come [to] with their ideas,” he said. “Just having people that you’re connected to that want to make film is great.”

The work that Kelly, Hernandez and Zapien shared at the showcase demonstrated their eclectic perspectives and approaches. Kelly screened his short documentary “Into the Fire,” which details the work of a sculpture student at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, while Hernandez presented his drama “Audition,” about a struggling actor. Zapien commented on their project “Sombras, Nada Más,” which they produced for their film seminar. They described it as a cathartic experience: “The video I made was about family and missing my family, and I made it because I was at a point where I was really sad and homesick. For the video, I just looked over videos of my family—instead of being sad, I tried to make something out of it.”

Zapien explained, however, that such classroom opportunities are largely restricted to upperclassmen; first-year and sophomore film majors rarely have the opportunity to create their own films, leaving them to rely on orgs such as VC Filmmakers to acquire any production experience. Other VC Filmmakers articulated further reasons why their club is vital. Brill expounded, “I think community is really necessary for any film project, because you don’t have one person making it. A one man crew is really impossible.” Lee corroborated the importance of having a filmmaker community: “At the end of the day, it’s cool if our shorts end up ‘good,’ but as long as we have fun making them—we’re with our friends, we’re with people we care about making all this content—it really shows.”

Lee then reflected on how the VC Filmmakers family has helped them flourish as a filmmaker, and how it will guide their creative projects after Vassar. “Our entire careers we owe to the things we’ve done together and the people we’ve worked with in our various shorts,” they said. “These are people that we will be working with for the rest of our lives. Not only are we building relationships by hanging out and making movies with each other, but we’re also building skills for the industry we all want to go into.”

Brill and Lee have ambitious aspirations for the future of VC Filmmakers. For example, Lee shared their goal to have the org get one of the group’s pieces into Sundance Film Festival next year. However, the two ultimately revived VC Filmmakers not only to forge a space for students to produce prestigious films, but also to institute film as a thriving element of Vassar’s art community. Lee summarized their vision: “I would like for us to be an established enough institution at Vassar that eventually people can say, ‘I want to go to Vassar because of the student film scene.’ A student film scene didn’t exist…but it has the foundation to be something really incredible, and I’m super excited to see where it goes.”

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